Toll roads may get price hike

January 15, 2009 3:28:26 PM PST
Harris County leaders are figuring the next budget and with billions of dollars committed to roadway expansion projects, there will likely be an increase in tolls. With the economy in a recession, the question is just how much.[SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

Toll road officials say the need for an increase has nothing to do with the cost of gas and nothing to do with a decline in drivers on the road. In fact, it has more to do with the economy itself than anything else.

The Harris County Toll Road Authority plans to build $12 billion worth of roadway in the next few years. It anticipates a price tag of $300 million alone to complete the East Sam Houston Tollway and another $300 million to bring the Hardy Tollway all the way into downtown.

"We will need revenue going forward to put any of those in the ground," said Peter Key of the HCTRA.

When commissioners approved a rate increase of $.25 in 2007, they also discussed smaller, annual increases to cover continued construction and maintenance. That amount was to be based on the rate of inflation or 2%, whichever is greater.

For example, if the $1.50 cash toll is increased by 3% then you get a new toll cost of about $1.55 each. However, this creates a practical concern -- making change at the toll booth.

"If you don't do increases in the cash rate in essentially $.25 increments, you can back down traffic and essentially break the system during rush hour," said Key.

Most drivers that Eyewitness News talked to are not interested in an increase, no matter what the amount.

"In this economy, people can't keep their jobs. And now you're gonna charge more for toll roads?" said driver Sajjid Dawoud.

The Toll Road Authority plans to bring a proposal to county commissioners in the next three months to recommend an increase. They say an increase of $.25 is highly unlikely even if it would make counting change easier and would not interrupt the flow of traffic.

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